Monday, January 3, 2011

Give a Little Push

We drove on frozen roads and braved a frigid blizzard in Salt Lake City last Wednesday during our vacation, attempting to rent snowboards for kids and pick up a cake for my daughter Sheridan's twenty-second birthday. I know every dangerous hill in town, having bumped into snowbanks and parked cars a time or two when I lived there. This time, we were in a heavier car with new tires so I wasn't too worried we'd get stuck. The police have become more considerate these days, diverting traffic from the hills where we used to slide, onto residential streets with less of a slope and better traction. I don't know why the snowplows there take so long to catch up to the storms.

As we took our mandated detour from 7000 South to 2700 East, the line of cars slowed to a crawl and then stopped. We looked ahead to the slight curve and no cars made it past. "There must be someone stuck on the hill ," we said to each other. We were tired of trudging through the snow and ready to go back to our holiday rental house for dinner. After five or ten minutes of waiting, slowly cars began to go around the vehicle to make their way home. As we approached the motionless white Saturn, I could see an elderly person in the driver's seat spinning the wheels--clearly not cut out for winter driving. A younger man futilely pushed from the back corner, ready to give up from exhaustion. He had been attempting to heave the car out of the ice since the beginning of the back-up. I couldn't refrain from commenting to Bob that these people must need some help. I would have understood if he had kept going; our car was sliding too. But he quickly pulled over as the other cars went around us, to find out why the Saturn couldn't make it up the little slope. Two more cars lost traction, Bob slipped on the ice in his tennis shoes, and the rest of us realized we would be lucky to make it back to the house without incident.

As I watched the first gentleman pushing the Saturn, and now Bob trying to help the stranded drivers I caught myself momentarily wishing we had just gone around them like everyone else. But if we had, I would have worried about them and felt horrible all night. "Patience. We are lucky and blessed," I thought. With three stranded cars at Cottonwood Heights, and Bob and the stranger offering their help, they started to talk about the feasibility of rear-wheel drives on hills in a snowstorm. Other cars, better equipped for the conditions, slid
sideways and past the curve. Then I saw the unexpected: Bob and the stranger talked for a few minutes and shook hands. Then the elderly man got out of his car, stooping shoulders and white hair, and walked over to the stranger's pickup. The stranger would take him home, we were later informed. The young girl in the little rear-wheel drive behind us also talked to Bob. Her dad would pick her up, she told him in a relieved tone.

When Bob came back to the car twenty minutes or so into our detour, I asked how it went. "Those cars are staying put tonight," he said. "I just needed to convince them not to try and drive them home." I was thankful that he was willing to get out and help, but even more thankful that he could reason with them--especially the elderly man. Sure, they've driven that hill in snow before, but why take a chance? When random strangers can pull over and give an old man a push, and then offer a ride after that doesn't work, my faith in mankind is restored. All they needed was a gentle reminder that the storm would not last forever, the car could be safely parked overnight, and there were other drivers willing to give them a lift. It's great to help someone push their car in a storm; it's even better to give them encouragement when it's time to give up and try another day. After we safely arrived back at the house from which we had started our little errands, I counted my blessings and expressed thanks that we didn't have to drive the storm anymore that night and that the stooped-over, white haired man was able to accept first the help of a stranger and second the life-saving suggestion of my husband in his slippery shoes!

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